Newspapers from Oregon to New Delhi to Cairo are, as they have always been, battling for readers. What makes the current struggle life threatening for many is the explosion of places readers can go for news, especially electronically.

It should be noted at the outset, I am not an employee of a newspaper so the view expressed is distinctly my own. As always.

There are many reasons why what’s happening worries me greatly. Coming from a mostly broadcast background, trained in news immediacy, I’ve never been a print advocate for much more than historical record or in-depth coverage. For many years, until print learned how to deal with broadcast and found its own niche, that was a valid point of view. Now, not so much.

Some major players in this fragmenting of news sources are seizing the moment to change how information is “shaped” and, thus, which facts are presented. Rupert Murdoch who owns Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, among others, is a case in point. He worries me. A lot.

An Australian by birth, schooled in the rough-and-tumble of British tabloids, Murdoch’s moved his properties from the “just-report-don’t-editorialize” history of news and staked out prominent space on the political right. His outlets, print and broadcast, deliberately contain and support that view while most others try to report impartiality.

The New York Times, on the other hand, worries me as well by drifting left of center, often reporting more liberal “facts.” MSNBC, too. In England and France many outlets are on one side or the other of the spectrum. Regularly.

Newspaper history, especially, is filled with this sort of “singular-point-of-view” publishing. Papers of the 20’s and 30’s in this country often put editorials on the front page, hammering issues … and people … they didn’t like. Hearst in San Francisco and McCormack in Chicago were especially known for their attacks. We survived.

But what worries me now is illustrated by national civics test from the International Studies Institute. The 33 questions were on American government and had been given to 2,508 persons nationwide. None of the questions were tricky; all could be found at the high school level.

Here is my concern. Average citizens scored a failing 49%. College professors came up with only 55%!

So what? Well, with news sources not only fragmented but moving to their own political viewpoints, how does the reader/listener know what is true … or what is not … if they don’t understand the basics of how our nation works? If someone tells you an apple is really an orange and you don’t know anything about apples or oranges, you may just accept a “fact” that isn’t true.

A second problem is studies show many people, content with listening/reading news supporting their beliefs, stay where they are, not reading/listening to sources that differ. I regularly get mail from people directing me to their news “source” while telling me they don’t trust any other.

If someone (a) doesn’t understand the nation’s civic structure and (b) hears/reads only one point of view, slanted but comfortable “facts” become “real.” So when it’s time to vote on an issue or elect someone from a field of candidates, who casts the “informed” vote?
While we’ve survived this sort of media slanting before, things are very different now. Our world has speeded up. We are bombarded with information from many sources. We are expected to absorb things faster and make decisions quicker. We compact information into texts, e-mails or other abbreviated forms so we often don’t have background or time for informed decision-making. We don’t sit by the fire in the evening, reading, listening and considering our world in quiet conversation.

This combination of a single-sided “news” view passed off and accepted as abbreviated “fact” coupled with modern demands on our time and attention is worrisome. So is the finding that only about half of college professors can pass a high school government exam!

While some newspapers will disappear … some already have … others will find new ways to fill their vital information role. I don’t fear for their futures.

But I do fear this one-sided, one-bias view of institutional reporting we are already seeing will spread as some journalistic entities seek to survive. I worry “fact” will replace accurate fact and that this will lead to important community and national decisions being made by many of us without necessary understanding of those decisions.

Add to these factors … faith-based politics. “What’s that,” you ask? Well, we’ll discuss that in a column or two.

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